One of the best ways to improve your viral communication is to see what not to do. The internet is filled with viral failures ranging from unintended tweets to poorly thought out videos. Things can especially spiral out of control with content that prompts interaction with consumers. Take the hashtag as an example. Businesses and individuals will use the hashtag as a call to action. Hashtags encourage others to contribute to social media in a specific way. Unfortunately, this “specific way” isn’t always the way a business or individual might intend.

The following is a lift of seven hashtag hijack fails. This list contains examples where companies failed to properly hijack a hashtag, as well as cases where a company’s expensive hashtag was hijacked itself. In all these cases, you are in for a zen like experience. Let the “don’t” of hashtag hijacking wash over you and bring you clarity.

1. JP Morgan

Back near the end of 2013, JP Morgan decided to work on brand relations with its consumer base with the hashtag “#AskJPM”. The hashtag was meant to create a positive image for the company, but Twitter users quickly hijacked the hashtag to share their own views on the bank. Safe to say, the outcome was on the opposite end of JP’s expectations. Users quickly criticized the bank with little gems such as this one aimed at JPM’s CEO:

Given JP Morgan’s troublesome dealings with the US government at the time, maybe this is an example of poetic justice via social media?

2. Ann Coulter’s Own Hijacking Is Hijacked

Sometimes, the process of hijacking a hashtag can bring its own degree of idiotic danger. Back in May, conservative pundit Ann Coulter tried to hijack the “#BringBackOurGirls” social media campaign (calling attention to 300 kidnapped Nigerian girls) by posting a picture of herself with the hashtag “#BringBackOurCountry”:

In response, various users retweeted her original tweet with the hashtag replaced:

This really makes you wonder, was this all just a comedic trick on Ms. Coulter’s part? Maybe she’s just a comedic genius?

Okay… probably not.

3. DiGiornio

Last month, the “it’s not delivery, but it’s still cardboard” pizza giant DiGiornio tried to participate in the trending hashtag “#WhyIStayed”. In Twitter 101, you are usually taught to research the hashtag before posting a tweet using it. At the very least, get a good sense of where the hashtag started. Unfortunately, DiGiornio didn’t bother to do either and sent out a tweet that read “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”

If they had bothered to research the hashtag, they would have found that the “#WhyIStayed” hashtag was being used to share stories of domestic abuse. Once DiGiornio discovered their blunder they quickly deleted the tweet and made two apologetic statements.

Given the general public response to DiGiornio’s apology, it seems like business and sincerity still can mix.

4. Walgreens

Some companies try to be rather discrete when they attempt to promote brand-related love from their consumer base. Other companies, like Walgreens back in 2013, try to make this attempt as blatant as possible. First, Walgreens tried to coax consumer love with the hashtag “#ILoveWalgreens”. Second, the company spent a six figure sum for the hashtag to become a trending topic. Everyone gets a little attention starved every now and then, but really Walgreens?

Like many of the examples, people took the hashtag and bent it to their will. Some individuals outright challenged the company with, “Is it just me, or is this trending tropic #ILoveWalgreens basically worthless if the company bought placement on the trending list?” Others gave into their sarcastic darkside: “#ILoveWalgreens because I prefer to pay $6 for a half-gallon of milk”.

It’s pretty clear that this was not money well spent for Walgreens.

5. Qantas

Sometimes you need to add an incentive to get people to participate in a hashtag. Australian airline company Qantas tried this method in 2011 after months of union disputes that eventually grounded their entire airline fleet. Qantas offered a pair of pajamas and a “luxury amenity kit” for tweeting good things about the airline.

So what were some of the notable entries? Well, how about:

  • “#QantasLuxury- when the passengers arrive before the couriers delivering the lockout notices do”
  • “Getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire. #qantasluxury”
  • “#qantasluxury is chartering a Greyhound bus and arriving at your destination days before your grounded Qantas flight”

I’m going to assume these people weren’t tweeting for the reward pajamas.

6. Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has had a rocky road the past couple of years. There has been a plague of political debate, technical difficulties, and PR blunders. To cut through the mud, the White House tried turning to Twitter in 2013 with the hashtag “#Obamacareisworking”. The response was somewhat predictable considering the debate at the time, but the directness of the criticism is a warm (although less entertaining) change from the sarcastic snark people often turn to first.

7. Tide

2013 was a very popular year for hashtag and hijack failure. Tide joined the list of failed social media campaigns with their promoted hashtag “#cleanwins” as a tie-in to the start of the NFL season. Unlike the other entries in this list, the responses weren’t all in direct opposition to Tide. Some of the responses just didn’t hit the intended mark:

Still, others were clearly anti-Tide:

Others still… well, drugs!

This concludes our tour of some rather notable hashtag hijack fails. For your own digital content, just remember: using a hashtag to fish for compliments or positive feedback can easily lead to unintended consequences. Keep your communication authentic.